The Wright Brothers-One Hundred Years of Flight


Complied by Allan Eich after visiting Kitty Hawk  in 2003.



Which one of the brothers actually flew the first airplane on Dec 17, 1903 ?


  1. Wilbur Wright
  2. Orville Wright


The brothers flipped a coin to see who would be the first to fly. Wilbur won the toss. They were ready to fly on Dec.12, but there was no wind and they needed some wind in order to take-off. The next day was Sunday and they had promised their father that they would not fly on Sunday. The next day there was no wind again, so it was decided to launch from a hill to use a down slope for take-off instead of the wind. Since Wilbur had won the coin toss, he made the first attempt. However the 9 degree slope proved to be too much and the airplane pitched up and stalled. The next two days they made repairs. Now, it was Orville’s turn. On level ground with a 27 mph wind, Orville Wright flew the first airplane on December 17, 1903 at 10:35 am.



How far did the airplane fly on it’s first flight ?


  1. 120 feet
  2. 1,200 feet
  3. 1.2 miles


Orville flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. It wasn’t much, but it was the start. Wilbur flew next with a distance of 195’ followed by Orville again at 200’. On the fourth flight Wilbur flew 852’ for 59 seconds. Then they decided to take a lunch break. During that time a wind gust came along and flipped the airplane over. It was badly damaged with the engine was torn lose as the wind flipped it over several times. The flying season was over but the Wright brothers would fly again next year.



What was the name of the first airplane ?


a.       The Spirit of St. Louis

b.      The Spirit of Dayton

c.       The Flyer


The design of the airplane called for a gross weight of approximately 630 lbs. The airframe was about 290 lbs plus 200 lbs for the engine and 140 lbs for the pilot. The engine was built by their friend, Charlie Taylor. It had four cylinders, was liquid cooled, and had no carburetor- just a steel can for fuel vaporization. A battery was required for starting but a magneto provided the spark once it was running. It developed 12 HP. It was known as the 1903 Flyer.




When did the Wright brothers first fly in public and receive recognition as the first to fly an airplane ?


After their first flight on Dec. 17, 1903, they later flew from Huffman prairie near Dayton, Ohio in the late summer of 1904. Since there weren’t the steady winds necessary for take-off, they used a catapult launch system. It involved a 20’ tower and a 1600 pound weight to catapult the airplane down a rail. They started making flights up to half a mile and also the first circular flight in history. At the end of the year, they could circle the field five times and stay aloft for more than five minutes.


In 1905 their airplane was changed so that the rudder was controlled by another lever instead of being tied in to the wing warping system. The elevator was enlarged and moved forward three feet for a longer moment arm. These modifications resulted in the first practical airplane that could fly 24 miles and staying aloft for almost 40 minutes. In an effort to protect their design and patent their wing warping, the Wrights avoided flying in public. The brothers attempted to sell their flying machine, but the US Army wanted to see it fly before they would buy it. The Wright refused, stating they wanted a contract signed first before they would fly in public. The Wright brothers finally had a contract signed in France and flew in public for the first time in 1908. Even though the Wrights had flown in 1903, they didn’t receive world recognition until five years later in 1908.


The state of Ohio claims to be the birth place of aviation. Were the Wright brothers born in Ohio ?


The Wright brothers grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Their home and bicycle shop was there too. Orville was born in Dayton, Ohio but Wilbur was actually born in New Castle, Indiana.


Did Orville and Wilbur ever fly together ?


They had promised their father that they would never fly together. However in 1910, Wilbur climb up on the lower wing of a Model B Wright Flyer next to his brother, Orville, who flew them around at Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio. Then their father, Milton, took his one and only flight with Orville as well. His comment to his son  while flying was, “ Higher, Orville, Higher”.


Why were they named Wilbur and Orville ?


Their father, Milton, felt that Wright was too common a name and thus gave his children distinctive first names. Wilbur was named after a clergyman named Wilbur Fiske  and Orville was named for Orville Dewey, a minister.


Were there any other brothers or sisters in the Wright family ?


Wilbur was born in 1867 and Orville who was four years younger and was born in 1871. They had two older brothers named Reuchin (1861) and Lorin (1862). Their sister Katharine was born in 1874 and was the youngest  child.  (Their parents, Milton and Susan Wright also had  twins in 1870, but Ida died at birth and Otis lived only one month. Thus Milton and Susan had a total of seven children. Susan later died in 1889 from tuberculosis when Orville was eighteen. Milton died in 1917.)


Were the Wright brothers Christians ?


Their father, Milton, at the age of fifteen experienced a conversion while working in a field. It did not involve any visions or signs, but “an impression that spoke to the soul powerfully and abidingly…and a sweet peace and joy which I had never known before”. Milton later became a Bishop in the Church of

the United Brethren of Christ. The church believed in the importance of a personal relationship with God.


Did the Wilbur or Orville ever get married ?


Wilbur didn’t want romance to get in the way of more important things such as building things. Orville was simply very shy. Neither ever married. The other two brothers did marry and have children. Katharine married later in life.


How did the Wright Brothers learn about mechanical things ?


Their mother, Susan, as a little girl had spent a great deal of time with her father in his carriage shop. She later designed simple household appliances for her self and made toys for her children. Susan instilled a mechanical curiosity in Wilbur and Orville. As they grew up, Orville started working with a printing press and later Wilbur had the idea to operated a bicycle shop in Dayton. Later Wilbur and Orville would build and repair bicycles under the name of the Wright Cycle Company.


Why did the Wright brothers go to Kitty Hawk in North Carolina to fly ?


The Wright brothers needed to find an area that had wind in order to fly their gliders and later their airplane. They discovered that Chicago was the windiest, but they needed a large area to fly and preferred to be away from the public. Kitty Hawk had the sixth highest average wind speed of 13 mph. The sand dunes also provided for gentle landings. The three large sand dunes near Kitty Hawk were known as Kill Devil Hills.


How much soaring (gliding) had the Wright brothers done before flying their 1903 Wright Flyer airplane ?


They started gliding in 1900 at Kitty Hawk. They had glides up to 400 feet which lasted only 15 seconds. In 1901, they wanted to control their glider more and used “wing warping” for turning. However at the end of that year they were very discouraged. On the train ride home to Ohio, Wilbur commented to Orville that he predicted that man would sometime fly, but not in our life time. But they didn’t give up. Over the winter they built a wind tunnel and tested airfoils for a better design. In 1903, they liked their rudder into the wing warping system and glided over 600’. Before they flew the first airplane they had made over 1000 glides.


How did the Wrights become the first in flight ?


They were persistent tinkers. They learned how to glide and control their glider by wing warping. By using a wind tunnel, they found an airfoil shape that produced the lift that they needed. They built a propeller that was not just a simple screw, but functioned a rotary wing. The key elements of control, lift, and thrust were perfected by the Wrights. The brothers attempted to patent their flying machine with wing warping capabilities 1903, but the Patent office refused saying that “the device was incapable of performing its intended function”. In other words- it will never fly.


Did the Wright brothers get to see the changes in aviation ?


Wilbur died in 1912 from typhoid. Orville died in 1948 at the age of 77. He had lived to see airplanes fly in World War II and know that the  world would never be the same with the birth of aviation.